WOMEN’S HEALTH: Media Reports Leave Out Vital Info
Despite the fact that 81% of women are satisfied with how the media reports health issues, a study conducted by the National Council on the Aging (NCOA) determined that "nearly one in four news stories about health research and older women omits crucial information." Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism professor Steven Ross examined news articles between Jan. 1, 1998 and March 31, 1999 that mentioned older women's health and either Alzheimer's, breast cancer, heart disease, lung cancer and osteoporosis. He found that 24% of the stories did not mention the limitations of research, many did not mention similar medical studies on the same topic and fewer than one in six discussed whether variables in the research were controlled for factors that could produce misleading results. Additionally, Ross discovered that the majority of older women's health news focuses on breast cancer, and that for every 100 stories mentioning breast cancer, 64 mentioned heart disease, 43 mentioned osteoporosis, 34 mentioned Alzheimer's and 19 mentioned lung cancer. Lynn Beattie, NCOA's director of health education programs, said that the study "underscore[s] the importance of going beyond the headlines," adding, "Women need to get more complete information about medical issues to better understand their risk for diseases. We recommend that women read and watch more critically and talk with their doctors to put medical news in perspective."
What Women Know
An accompanying survey of 1,000 women revealed that heart disease (25%) and breast cancer (25%) topped their list of concerns, although stories about breast cancer are more prominent. The study also determined that 47% of women consider themselves "very informed" about women's health issues and 49% consider themselves "somewhat informed." Television is the largest source of information for these women at 37%, while magazines (34%), newspapers (17%) and the Internet (3%) also contribute to women's knowledge of health concerns. Neal Cutler, director of survey research at NCOA, said, "Women have a good reason to be concerned about breast cancer, but they should also be aware of heart disease, which is often considered a man's disease." The American Heart Association calls heart disease the leading cause of death for American women, particularly older women (NCOA release, 10/18). For more information visit NCOA's website, www.womenshealth- aging.org